Franchise File - When support pays dividends

Every small business owner knows the feeling when you have to make a critical decision outside your everyday operational experience. Will adding an extra employee increase productivity or reduce profitability? How should you best meet the challenge of a new competitor? Why are sales increasing but profits reducing?

For some people, these decisions are what makes business an enjoyable challenge, but for many, the excitement is tempered by the knowledge that they’ve their house on the line if they get it wrong.

So how would it be if you could call on someone who had seen others face the same issues and knew the solutions that worked? I’m not talking about a business coach or mentor with experience of the issues all businesses face, but someone who knows your specific business inside out and can access specialist help and resources – at no added cost.

It might seem too good to be true, but it’s the premise behind franchising. One of the biggest benefits for franchisees should be that the ongoing fees they pay finance (among other things) on-site support on a regular basis from people who have seen it all before and know how to help them make the right decisions.

What do they do?
It starts with structured planning and goal setting, agreeing targets in all sorts of areas, setting budgets, and breaking everything down into manageable bite-sized chunks. That’s a good discipline for any business, but it has more impact when the owner is dealing with someone who can say, ‘Look, this is achievable, so-and-so in another area managed it in the past year and here’s how they did it.’

But it doesn’t stop at advice. Any good franchise will have the systems in place to measure Key Performance Indicators across a wide range of issues, and it’s the role of the field manager to monitor those KPIs and help the franchisee see how they can get better results for the effort they’re putting in.

And another advantage should come from the ability of the field manager to call in expertise from another part of the company. As one of the field managers I interviewed for Franchise New Zealand magazine put it, ‘My job is bridging the gap between the corporation, which has the resources, and the franchisees, who are the individuals with the skin in the game. If I think they need specific advice on, say, merchandising or store layout, then I can arrange for the specialists to help.’

Of course, field managers have another role that is crucial to the overall health of the franchise, too:  policing the system to make sure that standards are maintained, whether in product quality, customer service or brand image.

Having someone else with this level of involvement in your business might seem intrusive – even unwelcome, which is why people skills are a paramount requirement for good field managers. But franchisees who are willing to listen, prepared to take advice and able to make changes will find that their business prospers accordingly. As three times Westpac Supreme Franchisee of the Year Ivy Joe said, “Your support team are there to help you run your business better, so there’s no point in being offended. Listen to them and try what they suggest.”

The need to invest
Of course, the examples given are of franchises doing it right. They have devoted the resources to recruiting, training and supporting field managers who have the skills and credibility to make a difference to the franchisees they serve. Sadly, that’s not always the case. In too many franchises, the support function is underfunded and overstretched. If field managers have too many franchisees to support, or the underlying systems aren’t there to provide them with the data they need to evaluate changes, or are based in Australia with no real knowledge of the local market, then they won’t achieve the best results.

It’s an area of franchising that’s coming under increasing scrutiny as many franchise systems reach maturity and continued growth must come more and more from maximising franchisee performance. As a result, there are a growing number of training courses and support networks available, both here and in Australia, to help field managers and franchise managers achieve better results. Yet, strangely, these courses are often under-subscribed.

If franchisors are to deliver the level of support that they so often promise, it’s vital that they invest in the development of good field managers and good information systems. Without such investment, their brands – and their franchisees – can never hope to achieve their full potential. Get it right, and they can look forward to engaged, effective and, above all, successful franchisees who will help to drive the brand forward in every area.